President Obama was accused by liberal critics of coddling Wall Street during his first term. His pick of Mary Jo White to head the Securities and Exchange Commission is a signal that he is ready to take a more confrontational approach toward the financial industry. The timing of the SEC selection—coming three days after his inaugural address in which he championed a progressive agenda and a willingness to fight for it—underscores that message.
Obama will announce the decision at a 2:30 p.m. event at the White House, according to administration officials. At the same event, he will announce his decision to renominate Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general with a record of taking on banks, was installed as head of the financial watchdog agency in a recess appointment a year ago. He is an ally of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., the outspoken Wall Street critic who conceived of the CFPB’s creation.
White prosecuted several high-profile cases while serving for almost a decade as a U.S. attorney in New York. Many of those cases involved white-collar crime and financial fraud. “The SEC plays an essential role in the implementation of Wall Street reform and rooting out reckless behavior in the financial industry, and White’s background in enforcement and record of success make her the perfect choice to lead the agency at this important time,” a White House official said.
The administration is still working to put the finishing touches on rules that will implement the sweeping 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul. The SEC and the CFPB will be important players in that process.
Though Obama famously criticized "fat cat" bankers in 2009, consumers activists felt he did not go far enough to rein in "too big to fail" financial institutions and felt that Wall Street emerged relatively unscathed from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Departing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, a former Federal Reserve Bank of New York President and key player in the 2008 Wall Street rescue, has been a particular target of criticism on the left.